Tag Archives: West Heidelberg

44. Maxine Matthews

18 Nov


‘I believe everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of who you are,’ Maxine Matthews says thoughtfully. She looks around affectionately at her home, the West Heidelberg Olympic Village and a proud smile curls onto her lips.

Having moved to West Heidelberg in the 1980s as a public housing tenant, Maxine has seen and heard it all living in and advocating for community safety and youth involvement in the area.

Before moving to the 3081 community, Maxine left Adelaide as a self-proclaimed ‘wild child’ who was always dodging trouble with the law.

‘I remember saying, no one’s going to tell me what to do,’ she laughs heartily, an infectious sound that places those in her presence immediately at ease.

However, after becoming involved in the local community, Maxine has become a dedicated volunteer. She has volunteered herself for services such as 3081 Community Safety Working Group and the Regional Tenants Council as a representative on a range of policy issues, including homelessness, housing, community safety and community health. Over the past 15 years, there has been an increase in agencies working in with the locals. In addition to these services, Maxine is also an advocate for youth wellbeing and safety.

Maxine believes that the younger community members are entitled to leading a good life. Despite having faced many hardships, it is important they just have to get up and give it a go.

‘Don’t sit inside and feel sorry for yourself, go make life what it is,’ Maxine advocates to the younger generation, who are being given more opportunities to make for a better life.

There is no doubt Maxine’s involvement with adults and children is much appreciated in the West Heidelberg Community. These actions have almost nicknamed her the ‘voice’ of the community, because of her natural ability to connect with others.

This gift of talking and listening has allowed Maxine to create a sense of belonging among the village. An activity such as the Community Garden helps build a strong sense of community as well as receiving a great reception. It is activities like this that bring the community together.

‘No one knows the area better than we, the locals do,’ she says smiling.

And Maxine knows what locals want and need. As a part of her volunteer work, Maxine has advocated the Olympia Project. The project will pull down 300 houses with the aim to rebuilding 600 in the West Heidelberg Olympic Village. Maxine is satisfied that residents are happy, safe and comfortable while the new homes are being built. The project is in its second phase, and is shaping up to be a success.

Despite being the first person to take on the Office of Housing and coming out successful, Maxine humbly describes how she still gets nervous talking publicly.

‘I love talking to people,’ says Maxine. ‘But even after all the speeches I’ve done I still get butterflies,’

However, it is her compassion for the West Heidelberg community that motivates her to keep giving the residents opportunities to create a sense of community among the village. Through her work, she has found a unique description for the community.

‘I call it Yin Yang,’ she explains, smiling. ‘Because for every bad, there is a good to balance it out,’

And Maxine has certainly brought a great deal of good to this community. After the death of a young community member, it was Maxine who organised a barbeque for the local young people to connect and grieve together.

This was the first time Maxine had organised an event like this, but felt something needed to be done for the emotions of young people who had lost a community member. Over 100 teenagers attended the event and Maxine describes how the whole time everyone was wholly respectful.

‘It’s hard for them (the younger generation), so many authorities are telling them what to do, but no one is there to listen to them,’ Maxine shares.

‘Sometimes, the best part is to listen, just sit there and listen,’ she says gently. It becomes clear in that moment that while Maxine is a vocal advocate, she is also a gentle listener willing to lend a hand in any way she is needed to.

Words: Liana Gangi

Photo: Sean Porter


32. Sonni and Nathan

13 Nov

_MG_0025-EditIt’s an infrequent happening for one to live through the glee of others; in fact in this case it’s just as rare because I know of two beings that do so. Nathan and Sonni, both 24, have a knack of bringing people joy. More specifically, joy to those living in the West Heidelberg area-many of whom having a mutual love of basketball. For the past few months the basketball thriving duo have given the local teens and young adults of West Heidelberg, the opportunity to play Friday night basketball without the heavy cost of club memberships. Taking temporary base at the local half courts, the boys had soon discovered a shared love in the thrill of casual basketball and were surprised to have a high demand in players. With popularity of the group on the rise and inviting arms to those willing to join, Sonni and Nathan now hire out a court at the Olympic Leisure centre for 2 hours every Friday night. This has become an easy option for sport lovers in the area who may be living with financial, family and life struggles or for those who simply have a love for the game. Their weekly group of around 15-20 players ranging from 15-26 years of age, have become an honourable team in the self-titled program, ‘Hoop Dreams.’

Growing up in the suburb of 3081 had its share of lows for the boys, “We grew up in a rough area,” says Nathan. “As a kid I never liked growing up in West Heidelberg,” Sonni explains, “Some days I used to go to school with no lunch and remember saying, I wonder if we’re sleeping at another house tonight.” Whilst living in a big family, Sonni prioritised, thinking about his mother and being a role model for his younger siblings. However basketball arose as a silver lining for his own personal gratification. Both Sonni and Nathan found sanctuary in the passion of the game and so they lived many positive childhood memories through the sport even when surrounded by negativity. At a young age Nathan was diagnosed with Leukaemia and relied on basketball to fish him out of the depression of the illness, “When I was sick as a kid it got me from strength to strength and motivated me to get better.”

Throughout their high school lives, close friends Nathan and Sonni remember playing with the old basketball team Banksia Bulls. The community team was an easy program to be a part of and remained a strong tie of teamwork between the local players. Though years flew by and sadly the Bulls were no longer. Post high school, the two B-ball fanatics missed the game and the communal buzz of the suburb and so an idea stemmed from their two minds, the seed of an idea which would soon become the league of ‘Hoop Dreams.’ “Basketball kind of kept us all together [it] was one of those things that unified us rather than segregated us,” Nathan says.

With a sense of reminiscent integration of the game, Sonni realised a purpose for goodness was on the loom for their hometown. “We used to bag our own neighbourhood, but you’ve got to stop doing that, you’ve got to help it instead!” And so the tag team of old time friends were unanimous in the decision to give the residents of West Heidelberg “something to do.”

Sonni and Nathan hold onto the aspiration of allowing future generations the chance to do something greater than participate in the mischief throughout their neighbourhood. “Today there’s nothing. The area’s full of drugs, full of violence, full of trouble. All the bad stuff just makes your life turn upside down,” Nathan says, “We know the struggle, we know what it’s like.”  And so, with priority for the forthcoming generations, Nathan and Sonni now strive to give people of the area a purpose and hobby that will also guarantee safety and warmth from the community team. “Our idea is to bring basketball back,” Sonni exclaims.

The boys have now established an environment free of intimidation or competition, Hoop Dreams is a team built on growth, determination and solidity. With support from local organisations and in receipt of local grants, Hoop Dreams has become a stable program growing with each step, ”We’ve even got uniforms on the way,” Nathan declares triumphantly.

Although the boys of the basketball loving duo are not currently working, they rely purely on themselves to run the program with no outside help from the players involved. “We want to give them something to look forward to on a Friday night.”

With a well-structured two hour program of training and games, Sonni and Nathan cater for the needs of anyone interested in skill gaining exercises or for the adrenaline rush of the game itself. Both Nathan and Sonni are thrilled to see the eagerness of those involving themselves with Hoop Dreams. With newly found titles as mentors, the boys encourage all to “Hang out with us,” rather than dabble in misfortune on the streets. Sonni says, “From five till seven [o’clock], for those two hours, they can get away from any problems at home or school or any little thing.” Sonni and Nathan have already proved themselves worthy of honour in their community as respectable young men striving to give others the lifestyle choice of safety, joy and teamwork. The Banyule City council also find the two deserving of the immense amount of praise given to them for their efforts and for the establishment of Hoop Dreams, but I believe it all comes down to a purpose. After spending a couple of hours in the presence of these two gleaming coaches, I was certain that Sonni and Nathan shared a life purpose, and that was to bring others utter fulfilment and purpose of their own. After withstanding hardships of their own, the boys are just glad that they’re there to give others something better to do.

Words By:Peta Petidis

Photo by: Sean Porter

25. Harry Prout

21 Feb

Screen Shot Harry crp[We had heard a lot about the impressive accomplishments of Brother Harry Prout, yet as our interview commenced, I don’t think either of us were prepared to be quite as blown away as we were by the amazing tales of a life of generosity and compassion that Harry had to tell.

Raised on a dairy farm, Harry’s own life had modest beginnings. His family life consisted of simplistic things such as growing potatoes, or “spuds” on their farm, looking after their flocks of sheep and riding bikes around – “we were generally pretty feral actually!” Harry jokes. But his childhood was also one of work, as he recalls having to milk the cows early each morning and then head off to school. On his return from a day of classes, Harry continued working, taking over the milking from his mother before dinner time. Such dedicated, hardworking attributes shone through early in Harry’s life and it is easy to see how he has carried this selfless attitude into later life. Not only that, but growing up on a farm enabled Harry to gain “a sense of nature, and God’s presence in nature”, what with new life surrounding him all the time, as calves that were born came into milking and eventually had babies of their own.

Harry’s strong beliefs and a desire to find a new life led him to join the Marist brothers. The institute of the Brothers was created in 1817, originally with a focus on educating poor and rural children in France, an aspiration that is still true of the organisation nowadays. Harry describes how their goal was to help the poor and the powerless. For Harry himself, he had always felt a particular pull towards helping the outcasts and the poor amongst society, “standing up for justice” in the same way that his other family members did. His charitable instincts could perhaps run in the family, as his mother was a nurse who cared for Aboriginal mothers who had their children taken away, while his father worked in Aboriginal Affairs.

Helping the young did not stop with his involvement in the Marist Brothers. Throughout Harry’s life, he has been actively involved in retreat work all around Australia, particularly at school camps. Harry believes that this sort of experience has enabled him to realise that sometimes it is necessary to just stop and ask an individual how they are going in life. The response to this question is sometimes shocking, particularly when it comes from such young people who are incredibly ambitious, aspiring individuals who have unfortunately suffered throughout their lives.

Harry has a background of teaching and has taught in 4 different schools across Australia. With a chuckle Harry acknowledges that aside from a smattering of English, History and Religion; he used to teach dance and movement for a while. “One of the things I miss most, actually, when I gave up teaching, was producing musicals… Such a great community building activity [where] the natural talents of kids really shine through.” Through years of being a teacher, Harry gained an understanding of the importance of education and learning being present in a child’s life – making him all the more valuable in his current position. When asked how he came to be in West Heidelberg, Harry explains that he had been working at a retreat centre in Mt Macedon, in a position of leadership. When he was approached by a woman named Sister Sally, who was accompanying a group of students, to come and work in their community, Harry felt ready to move on from his current position and accept a new challenge. Moving into the new area proved to be a big change for Harry, not merely because of the different surroundings but the people he lived with were not just other Brothers, but people from around the area. Harry notes, “It was actually the first time I had lived with women, so that was a big learning curve for me!”

Harry’s initiation into the community wasn’t easy. He had grown up and lived in a middle class society; therefore this new environment was confronting and at times “awkward”. He reminisces on the very fond memories of being assaulted up as he tried to intervene in a fight between young boys. It was a long journey for Harry, but he eventually built a good rapport with all groups in the community. These relationships have led to a lot of mutual trust and respect; they would all do anything for each other.

According to Harry, coming to West Heidelberg has helped increase his sensitivity and compassion towards those with disabilities. It has given him “a richer” understanding of mental illnesses, something he considers a “blessing”, and has also been in close contact with other less fortunate people. “In the neighbourhood, 20% of the population are Somali refugees”, remarks Harry, and it is because of this he has come to understand a lot more about their plight. A quiet kind of pride seeps into Harry’s voice as he recalls the Somalian refugees he has had contact with. He notes that unfortunately, in war-torn countries, usually it is not the poor and the disadvantaged who manage to escape, but those with a higher standing and some wealth. Therefore the refugees who have settled out here are the ones who already value education. “They know about education and they aspire to education.” Harry conveys to us a sense of their bravery and resourcefulness in making a life for themselves in Australia, and explains how even though they have known what it is to be educated, often out here they cannot afford such luxury and this can be very degrading for them. We, two privileged young girls who have just successfully completed Year 12, were stunned to hear about the ongoing conditions for these refugees and the fiery passion that Harry harbours in regards to looking out for those who come from war-torn countries was nothing less than inspiring.

West Heidelberg, the suburb that Harry currently resides in, is one of the most disadvantaged areas in Victoria. The level of poverty experienced by the town is very confronting. The number of individuals who have or do suffer with mental illness, abandonment, divorce, or alcohol and drug reliance is extremely high. Harry believes that sometimes bad experiences lead to even worse experiences, for example a single mother may consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol in order to “numb the pain” of her situation. This domino effect only contributes to the cycle of poverty in this small town.

Harry informs us that one major issue in the community is increasing obesity, particularly amongst youth. Living conveniently close to many fast-food restaurants has resulted in the community’s large consumption of foods high in saturated and trans fats. This unhealthy diet leads to the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other health problems later in life. In order to tackle this issue, Harry has proactively promoted healthy eating by teaching them the convenience of healthy alternatives. He opens his house for “drop in lunches”, providing healthy meals to the community. Harry also raves about the Summer BBQs which are regularly held in his backyard. Harry believes that the popularity of his services has merely been spread through word of mouth. The number of people who drop by Harry’s house for lunch continuously increases, enough so that the visiting list has extended to over 300 families.

It took Harry a while to adjust to his new lifestyle, but he quickly learned that what was needed most in the community was someone to listen and allow the local people to give voice to what they really wanted. “I soon came to see that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason, so I did a lot of listening.” Most of the young people claimed they just wanted somewhere to go and “hang out”, so the house Harry lived in, the very house we sat in for our interview, became like a place of refuge and rest, where all were welcome. It was touching to hear Harry describe how the house would sometimes hold big gatherings with up to 20 people, who would all come along to enjoy a meal and support each other. When prompted to talk about winning the Jaga Jaga Australia Day Award, he quickly asserts that it was awarded to “the whole community”.

“[It was] just a recognition of the volunteer work we do,” Harry modestly tells us. The award was presented as a token to acknowledge how he and the other workers managed to “identify with people who are poor, to see if we could help them in anyway. … We just wanted… to journey with the people… understand what it’s like in their boots.”

The small, modest house that we sat in for the interview was the home that Harry had slept, cooked, showered and invited people into over the past few years. It was a very small abode, although it had a cosy, welcoming atmosphere that everybody who walked through the door felt. Harry explains how his home and the many neighbouring houses were built over 56 years ago for the Olympians of the 1956 Olympic Games which were held in Melbourne. Harry acknowledges that the houses in the Olympic Village were not “built to last”, resulting in many maintenance issues, mould and extreme temperature conditions during the hotter and colder months. Despite this, Harry graciously lives in his small home, taking advantage of the luxuries that his life has been granted with.
Harry’s work amongst his community is very important. Sadly, education isn’t regarded as a priority like it is for those in higher socio-economic areas. Very few in Harry’s area actually finish year 12. There’s not a lot of encouragement to go to school, and even if they do, they don’t achieve very high results. Harry believes that education is the “key to confidence” and in order to promote learning amongst the community, he wanted to provide a safe haven away from the chaos and mess at home for young kids to get their homework done to a sufficient standard. This eventuated in the local homework club, which enabled children to get help with their Maths and English at a proper working table. The club grew, although Harry recognised that the kids who desperately needed the help weren’t coming and taking advantage of the amazing services. In addition, hardly any kids are involved in sports, despite Harry’s best efforts to start up a netball team a few years back. The cost for the right footwear and uniforms is just too expensive, and some children don’t even have access to a car to go to the games or parents willing to go along and encourage them. Harry therefore helped push for the creation of the Bike Shed, a project funded by the council that enabled them to loan out bikes to children, and maintain the scooters and bikes that kids already owned. It also provided a designated destination for young kids to feel welcome to come and bond with Harry and other volunteers over their bikes and scooters, allowing them to open up about their circumstances at home.

Harry sounded very excited to report that they recently received a grant from Bendigo Bank for a whole new selection of scooters. The benefits of such a program have been astounding and while he waves away much of the praise that he is given, it all comes down to the hard work Harry has put in to making his community a better place.

Words By:Annabelle Pendlebury and Joely Mitchell

Photo by: Sean Porter